Broken English is one of two-discs' worth of material (along with Short Visit to Nowhere) that the Brötzmann-led tentet recorded in the summer of 2000. Oddly, "Stonewater" was performed on the previous release of the same name in a somewhat shorter version (despite being the only track on that album). Here, it begins with Hamid Drake on frame drum reciting passages from the Qu'ran, soon accompanied by Brötzmann's ecstatic tarogato. Just when the listener thinks the piece will consist of unfolding layers of Middle Eastern exotica, the full band breaks in blaring shades of the leader's early FMP sides. The rest of the work is meted out in episodic fashion, sparse solo interludes mixing with dense ensemble passages, eventually settling into a quasi-groove to take it out. The structure is a bit on the clunky side, but it provides ample space for solid solos from, among others, Jeb Bishop, Joe McPhee, and the ever-astounding Mats Gustafsson. Ken Vandermark's title composition also begins with a vaguely Arabic aura, Michael Zerang's hand drums accompanied by high-register bowed bass, but soon leaps into a raw, up-tempo mode that alternates with a brooding, noir-ish theme for the remainder. In both pieces, the value is found more in the imaginative and heartfelt solo work than in the framework of the compositions. While enjoyable, this isn't nearly as effective as live performances by this group could be, where the composed and the improvised intertwined seamlessly, often to spectacular effect. Broken English is a good album, but the tentet had yet to be captured on disc in all their power.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick
feat: Peter Brötzmann